Top of the lake

Where end­less flow­er­ing plants and shrubs meet the sooth­ing wa­ters of a man­made lake, a gar­dener re­alises his vi­sion of a land­scape that is in­ter­est­ing all year round.


A breath­tak­ing, flower-filled gar­den by a man­made lake in Nel­son.

It’s tempt­ing to liken the de­sign of Michael Ed­wardes’ Moutere Val­ley gar­den to the work of Lancelot ‘Ca­pa­bil­ity’ Brown. The well-known 18th cen­tury English land­scape ar­chi­tect was renowned for his fond­ness for mov­ing hills and mak­ing lakes and rivers to form nat­u­ral­is­tic land­scapes in the coun­try es­tates of the landed gen­try. But while a lake was in­deed cre­ated to form the cen­tre­piece of Quails Cross­ing, Michael’s two-hectare gar­den north­west of Nel­son, there the re­sem­blance ends.

There were few plants other than trees in Ca­pa­bil­ity Brown’s land­scapes while Michael’s gar­den is filled with a di­verse abun­dance of plants from tow­er­ing red­woods, oaks and liq­uidambars to swathes of daf­fodils, irises and hostas. Maples, hun­dreds of rhodo­den­dron and even more blue­bells cre­ate a de­light­ful wood­land at­mos­phere un­der­neath the canopy of tall trees while me­an­der­ing paths, pretty wooden ar­bours, arches and bridges add struc­tural in­ter­est.

It’s a dif­fer­ent place to the un­wanted swampy pad­dock with a few flaxes grow­ing in where he started the gar­den 26 years ago. “It was all on an im­pulse re­ally,” he ex­plains. “The land was flat, boggy in win­ter and rock hard in sum­mer.

“My brother had bought it, and I bought the two hectares from him. We ba­si­cally started from very bare land that none of the lo­cal farm­ers wanted be­cause it was so wet and boggy. We had no money, we did it all on a shoe­string.

“Lance built the lake. He is an en­gi­neer and he sur­veyed it all and worked out how much soil we had to re­move and the size of the banks nec­es­sary for the lake. The gorse and rub­bishy growth was head high. As we cleared, we made piles of the rub­bish and put the soil we took out for the lake over the rub­bish to form con­tours and changes of level.”

If cre­at­ing a large gar­den from scratch wasn’t a big enough chal­lenge for Michael, he also had to ren­o­vate his house – an old class­room that he had moved from Nel­son to the site. “It was a ma­jor thing, it was in a shock­ing state,” he re­calls. “Hours and hours of work, scrap­ing win­dows with a blow torch, paint­ing all hours of the night.”

Get­ting the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the house and gar­den right was im­por­tant, and Michael felt an in­for­mal gar­den would suit the house best.

The large trees were the first plants to go in. Many did not cope with the heavy clay soil, but the tougher species such as sil­ver birch, liq­uidambar and pin oaks sur­vived and now form a leafy canopy around the shores of the lake, pro­tect­ing the many shrubs, bulbs and peren­ni­als planted be­low.

“Although the soil is mostly heavy clay, once you get things go­ing, it im­proves. I found maples did very well

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